Is Originality Possible?
I once visualized a new food special for work: mini tacos. They would be the size of mini hot dogs, replete with meat, cheese, and all the tiny fixin’s. It was genius. Everyone would love them and praise me for my creativity. Telling my coworker about the idea, she replied, “Oh — I’ve had those before!”
Although mini tacos had already been thought of before, does that make my thought any less original?
Must a thought indeed be 100% new in order to be deemed original?
It’s hard to identify sources of inspiration, whether our brainwork is wholly beholden to the thoughts and deeds of others, whether they have arisen solely out of our own minds, whether such is a mixture of the two. Artists throughout the aeons have even cited “muses” as the sources of their creativity — I’ve named my muse Mr. Mystery (which I made up myself due to it’s unique repetitive sound, but come to find out later there was a short-running comic book series by the same name).
More and more as I observe my mental processes it seems we are to varying degrees the conduits for impressions that derive from origins outside our typical waking consciousness. No doubt our sources are multiple; they mix and mingle and shift according to circumstance.
Since it is sometimes difficult to identify the origins of our thoughts, how do we define originality? I refuse to consult the dictionary when crafting my own definitions (and perhaps this itself may be seen as an act of originality). When we say something (lets say, a thought) is original, we typically mean that the thought is largely unique to ourselves. The less outside influence on a thought, the more original it is.
We are inextricably beholden to every sensation and bit of knowledge acquired. I am using words to fashion my own mostly unique thoughts that have long been concocted. Concepts are the raw materials we use to fashion our own mental architecture. Though these thoughts here are mostly mine, I cannot escape the host of experiences that have culminated in this moment and the acquired tools that have allowed me to express them.
I have used the phrase “taste eternity” ever since what I deemed to have been a near-death experience. I haven’t seen the phrase ever used before. A few years later I was reading a collection of Emily Dickinson poems; she used the exact same phrase — and she was born exactly a hundred years before me! Woe is me! (also not original).
Can we ever really be original?
Is is even possible to escape the cycle of influences and impressions and prior thought to craft our own original ones? I think the answer must be an absolute yes.
If it were the case that originality were impossible, that all thought were a closed system, this would mean that humanity must have existed forever and each person has been beholden to the thoughts of the limitless ancestors that have lived prior to them. Yet it is no controversy to claim that humans indeed have not lived on Earth for all time — there must have been original humans that had to have concocted their own original thoughts.
Thought cannot be deterministic — there has to be a certain newness possible when it comes to original thinking. Although being alive (and therefore necessarily existing as/among the most advanced and evolved humans in existence at the time) means that we live under the burden of history’s heaviest load of information, impressions, knowledge, etc., there has to be a way to break free as our ancient ancestors must have.
The only difference today is that we have to fight harder to be original. Let us prey.
One of the reasons I started a blog is to get my thoughts out before they become so further mingled with the minds of others they fail to be identifiable as containing any likeness of originality.
In the end, to those of us who care to be original, give credit where credit is due. The rest is up to you.